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In the days after the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, officials with the Texas Department of Public Safety said the shooter encountered a police officer employed by the school district before charging through a back door — and gave conflicting accounts about whether the officer fired at the gunman.
Agency officials now say there was no police officer on campus when the shooter first arrived — but did not explain why they first believed there was.
The gunman crashed a truck in a ditch near the school at 11:28 a.m., fired at two passersby on the street, then entered the school 12 minutes later through a back door before police arrived, DPS officials said Thursday.
“He was not confronted by anybody,” Victor Escalon, a DPS official, said during a press conference Thursday. The agency is leading the investigation into the shooting along with Uvalde police.
The law enforcement response to the active shooter call has drawn mounting scrutiny in the days since the massacre. State law enforcement officials have given vague and conflicting answers on what exactly happened after the gunman arrived at the school, and parents have criticized police for not acting quickly enough to stop the shooter.
At a Wednesday press conference in Uvalde, DPS Director Steve McCraw said that a school police officer “engaged” with the gunman before he entered the school but did not exchange gunfire with the gunman. Other DPS officials were quoted in media reports saying there was an exchange of gunfire at that moment.
After a chaotic and confusing press conference Thursday in 90-degree heat, the state’s top law enforcement agency still has not answered key questions, including why it took so long for officers to stop the 18-year-old gunman and why an entrance to the school appeared to be unlocked, allowing him to enter the building in the middle of the school day.
Escalon declined to answer several questions from reporters and to clarify discrepancies in previous statements by agency officials, saying authorities “will circle back.”
He offered new details about the timeline of the law enforcement response Thursday, saying local police officers were the first to arrive at the school — about four minutes after the gunman entered — but had to fall back after taking gunfire. Officers tried to negotiate with the shooter, he said, but the man “did not respond.”
Escalon said most of the gunfire from the shooter occurred when he first entered the school but added that he continued to fire shots — some at police — as officers attempted to make contact.
It took officers an hour to kill the gunman once he was inside as law enforcement officers called "everyone that's in the area" to help, then waited for "specialty equipment" and body armor and organized a tactical team to reenter the school, Escalon said.
Asked whether officers should have gone in sooner, Escalon said, “That’s a tough question. … I don’t have enough information to answer that question yet.”
Uvalde police received the first call about the gunman around 11:20 a.m., when his grandmother called 911 after he shot her in the face at their home about two minutes from the school. The gunman then fled in her pickup truck, crashing it in a nearby ditch — prompting a 911 call from a neighbor, a DPS spokesperson told The Washington Post.
At 1:06 p.m. Tuesday, the Uvalde Police Department posted on its Facebook page that the shooter was in police custody. Authorities later reported that the shooter was shot to death by a Border Patrol agent who responded to the scene.
“The bottom line is that law enforcement was there, they did engage immediately, they did contain him in the classroom,” McCraw said at the Wednesday press conference. At the same press conference, Gov. Greg Abbott praised the officers at the scene and said “it could have been worse” without their intervention.
Videos have circulated on social media showing frustrated parents confronting police officers outside the school while the gunman was inside — and debating whether to charge into the school themselves.
Onlookers shouted, “Go in there! Go in there!” at officers outside of the school after the attack began, but officers did not, according to a resident who spoke with The Associated Press. At one point, federal marshals handcuffed a parent who encouraged officers to enter the premises, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Amid the confusion, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro called on the FBI on Thursday to “use their maximum authority to investigate and provide a full report on the timeline, the law enforcement response and how 21 Texans were killed.”
Kenneth Trump, a Cleveland-based school safety consultant, said Thursday’s press conference left key questions unanswered — starting with why a school door may have been left unlocked.
Trump said the long gap between the time police arrived on the scene and the time the gunman was taken down is concerning, but there are still lots of unknowns, including how equipped local law enforcement was to handle a gunman at a school.
“The frustration for parents is real when they hear not only that [police] got in but they couldn’t breach — or did not breach — that classroom,” he said. “The question is not only did they have the adequate manpower, but did they have the equipment to handle that and did they have prior training, joint partnership, exercises?”
Trump said that after the mass shooting at Colorado’s Columbine High School in 1999 — when two students fatally shot 12 classmates and a teacher and injured 21 others before killing themselves — law enforcement has moved away from the tactics employed at the time of waiting and setting a perimeter during an active shooter situation.
Instead, police are now trained to immediately enter and try to subdue the shooter, even if they’re alone on the scene, he said.
“Columbine changed the entire landscape of enforcement tactical response to active shooters because it became clear that these incidents unfold in minutes,” he said. “You have mass loss of life, the longer you go on.”
Former Austin and Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo tweeted Thursday, “We don’t have all of the particulars right now, but when gunfire is ringing out with, police are trained, expected, and required to engage, engage, engage. This is a moral and ethical obligation.”
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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/05/26/uvalde-school-shooting-police-response/.
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Under federal law, Americans buying handguns from licensed dealers must be at least 21, which would have precluded Salvador Ramos from buying that type of weapon. That trumps Texas law, which only requires buyers of any type of firearm to be 18 or older.
Following Tuesday’s massacre at Robb Elementary School, which killed 19 children and two adults, a growing number of lawmakers in Texas and beyond are calling for the minimum age to purchase assault rifles to be raised to 21 from 18. Doing so would require undoing nearly two centuries of more permissive regulations on so-called long guns.
“It’s something that could happen at either the state or federal level, but I don’t see movement on either front,” said Sandra Guerra Thompson, a criminal law professor at the University of Houston Law Center.
Only six states — Florida, Washington, Vermont, California, Illinois and Hawaii — have increased the minimum purchase age for long guns to 21, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The majority did so following the 2018 massacre in Parkland, Florida, where a then-19-year-old assailant killed 17 people at a high school.
Several states have since faced legal challenges.
The National Rifle Association sought to repeal the Florida law.
“The ban infringes the right of all 18-to-20-year-olds to purchase firearms for the exercise of their Second Amendment rights, even for self-defense in the home,” the NRA argued in a court filing, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “The ban does not just limit the right, it obliterates it.”
Government attorneys, however, argued that because “18-to-20-year-olds are uniquely likely to engage in impulsive, emotional, and risky behaviors that offer immediate or short-term rewards, drawing the line for legal purchase of firearms at 21 is a reasonable method of addressing the Legislature’s public safety concerns.”
A federal judge upheld the law last year; the NRA is appealing.
A U.S. Court of Appeals recently ruled that California’s version of the law was unconstitutional, though it did uphold a provision that requires adults under 21 to obtain a hunting license before buying a rifle or shotgun.
After the shooting in Uvalde this week, lawmakers in New York and Utah also called on their states to raise the age limit for long gun purchases to 21. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein introduced federal legislation earlier this month — less than a week before the Uvalde shooting — that would raise the minimum age to purchase assault weapons to 21 from 18; the California Democrat said in a statement that it was in response to a shooting that killed 10 people at a Buffalo supermarket. That gunman also was 18 years old.
“It makes no sense that it’s illegal for someone under 21 to buy a handgun or even a beer, yet can legally buy an assault weapon,” she said.
Lindsay Nichols, federal policy director at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said that increasing the age requirement at the federal level may be more effective because federal authorities can inspect and discipline licensed firearm sellers.
“State authorities often don’t have a system in place for enforcing the laws governing” licensed dealers, Nichols said.
In the hours after the shooting in Uvalde, there was some confusion about what types of firearms Ramos had used. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott initially said that Ramos had a handgun and possibly a rifle. That prompted some to speculate that Ramos had been able to get hold of the weapons more easily because of recent changes to the gun laws in Texas, including a bill passed last year that allows Texans to carry handguns without a permit or training. But those early reports turned out to be inaccurate.
After it became clear that the weapon used was a rifle, Texas Democrats questioned why Ramos was able to purchase one at the age of 18.
“Why do we accept a government that allows an 18 year old to buy an assault rifle, but not tobacco products?” state Rep. Nicole Collier, a Fort Worth Democrat who chairs the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, said in a statement. “The hypocrisy of government is deafening. We can develop gun policy that does not infringe upon one’s constitutional right, while preserving and protecting life; that’s called multitasking and we can do that.”
State Rep. Jarvis Johnson, a Houston Democrat, called on Abbott to convene a special session of the Legislature so lawmakers could “pass real gun reforms,” including raising the minimum age to purchase long guns.
“Enough is enough,” he said.
Such a move would reverse a decades-old Texas system that treats handguns differently from long guns, which have long been exempted from state rules on open carry.
The disparate rules date back to the post-Civil War era, when the state — counter to its modern-day reputation — adopted some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation.
“Despite its stereotype of being a state where cowboys promiscuously tote six-shooters, Texas is one of the few states that absolutely prohibits the bearing of pistols by private individuals,” wrote firearms attorney Stephen Halbrook in a 1989 Baylor Law Review article, six years before former Texas Gov. George W. Bush relaxed rules on handguns considerably.
Following spasms of violence that were then plaguing the young state in the 19th century, lawmakers “started specifically targeting weapons that they equated with crime,” said Texas historian Brennan Rivas, who is writing a book about the state’s early gun laws. “They equated bowie knives, daggers and pistols with interpersonal violence and crime.”
Muskets, rifles and shotguns, by comparison, were excluded because they were used for hunting or participating in a militia.
“They didn’t consider long guns to be deadly weapons,” Rivas said. “Those had valuable uses. Whereas these other weapons were kind of like a plague on polite society.”
Lawmakers of that time could not have envisioned that long guns would evolve from lumbering hunting rifles into AR-15s capable of firing dozens of rounds per minute, Rivas added.
But any tighter requirements appear unlikely to pass in Texas.
Just last year, following high-profile massacres in El Paso and in Midland and Odessa in 2019, lawmakers approved a variety of measures that loosened gun regulations. In addition to authorizing the carrying of handguns in public without a permit or training, the laws ban the governor from limiting gun sales during an emergency and allow gun owners to bring their weapons into hotel rooms.
During a Wednesday press conference at Uvalde High School, Abbott repeated a claim he and other Republican state leaders have often made, that mental health issues are to blame for the streak of mass shootings, not lax gun regulations. Officials conceded that they were not aware that the gunman had any criminal or mental health issues.
“The ability of an 18-year-old to buy a long gun has been in place in the state of Texas for more than 60 years,” Abbott said. “And why is it that for the majority of those 60 years we did not have school shootings? And why is it that we do now?”
On Thursday, The Daily Beast reported that a new video appears to show Brazilian police killing a mentally ill Black man inside a car with a gas grenade.
"Federal highway police stopped 38-year-old Genivaldo de Jesus Santos, as footage shows, pinning him to the ground, putting him in the back of a police car, and trapping his kicking legs with the door as gas billows out of the vehicle," reported Alice Tecotzky. "An autopsy confirmed that Santos, who suffered from schizophrenia, according to family members, died of asphyxiation."
"Santos’ nephew, Wallison de Jesus, told local media outlets that his uncle was unarmed," the report continued. "The nephew said that Santos became nervous after officers found medication packets during the encounter. As per the nephew’s account, he told officers that Santos needed the medication and that his uncle 'didn’t resist.'"
Brazilian Federal Police dispute this story, claiming that Santos "actively resisted" and that they only resorted to a gas grenade after "instruments of lesser offensive potential" failed to subdue him.
Brazil has rampant rates of police violence, particularly against Black civilians. According to The Washington Post, the incident has already sparked protests in Santos' hometown.
All of this comes as Brazil's presidential election is scheduled for October, where right-wing incumbent Jair Bolsonaro, notorious for his anti-Black remarks, is struggling in polls against former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
You can watch the video here.